Monday, March 16 marked the beginning of a new era for many restaurants and bars in Michigan with Governor Whitmer limiting food establishments to take-out services only due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The heart of Grand Rapids thrives off locally owned restaurants that make up a significant portion of the downtown area. With many of these restaurants and bars closed for most of spring, they have been struggling to stay afloat and maximize profits. This changed on Monday, June 1 when the Governor relaxed these restrictions to allow 50% capacity in restaurants. Grand Rapids took it one step further by introducing the concept of Social Zones and Social Districts.
Social Zones allow businesses to expand into part of public sidewalks and streets, increasing capacity and allowing for more dining opportunities. This is one part of Grand Rapids’ plan to re-open the economy and support local businesses.
There are currently four Social Zones located within or near Downtown Grand Rapids: Monroe North; Bridge Street; Center City and Heartside. Some restaurants included in these zones are Jolly Pumpkin (Bridge Street), Uccello’s (Center City), Art Caribbean Fusion Cuisine (Center City) and Stella’s Lounge (Heartside) — all of which are Grand Rapids Chamber members. There are additional zones in the works that will hopefully be coming up soon. These zones have been approved to stay through November 2020, with the hopes that they will greatly help the financial and social impacts on these businesses due to COVID-19.
The newest concept in the works is the idea of Social Districts. Social Districts create common areas, like Social Zones, but more exclusive to bars. This will be an open area where individuals are able to roam freely within the district with a branded cup that includes the name of the bar and the name of the district.
This expansion allows for more community and opportunities for bars in the Grand Rapids area. The location of the first two districts were established at the July City Commission meeting – the Downtown District and the Wealthy Street District. More information is to follow from the City regarding specifics of collaborating bars.
Grand Rapids is working diligently to create a welcoming atmosphere where people feel comfortable and safe during the reopening of many businesses. With each social zone and social district offering unique food and social experiences, the city has reopened in a way that gives community members the opportunity to visit and revisit their favorite Grand Rapids locales throughout the summer and fall.